South Dakota woman guilty of manslaughter in child’s death
CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — A Gann Valley woman was found guilty on one count of first-degree manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault Friday in the death of 4-year-old Mason Naser.
Donika Gonzales, 23, stood trial this week at the Brule County Courthouse on charges of second-degree murder, two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter, and alternate counts of aggravated assault and felony child abuse. Mason was the child of Tyler Naser Sr., who Gonzales was living with at the time of the child’s death, and she was caring for his children.
Gonzales was found not guilty of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree manslaughter and felony child abuse. The trial lasted six days.
“I was surprised,” Assistant Attorney General Bob Mayer said of the verdict. “I thought we presented enough to reach beyond a reasonable doubt for murder.”
The first-degree manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine. The aggravated assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
The attorneys finished closing arguments by 1:15 p.m. Friday. The jury came to a verdict just short of three hours from beginning of deliberation.
When the verdict was read, Mason Naser’s family quietly cried while Gonzales’ family sat in shock.
Gonzales’ reaction was small, but she blinked back tears as she sat at the defendant’s table.
“The jury gave Mason the justice he needs, that he so deserves,” said Malissa Walters, the child’s aunt, in an interview after the trial. “This is what I’ve been fighting for this whole time.”
Walters, the sister of Mason’s biological mother, Angelina Walters, said she is happy with the manslaughter and aggravated assault convictions, but wishes it would have been murder.
“But still, first-degree manslaughter carries the possibility of life sentence,” Malissa Walters said. “I know she’s getting what she deserves.”
Walters testified briefly and sat through the whole trial. After Mason died in 2013, she began a Facebook page about Mason and the abuse he suffered to bring awareness to the case and of child abuse.